Many law firms and lawyers jump at the first advertising company that promises to improve their online marketing strategies and increase their business. We recommend you slow down and consider four things before you choose which firm to hire for your Internet marketing: (1) find out what happens if you decide to switch providers, (2) investigate the company's track record, (3) find out who is writing the content for your website, and (4) focus on the investment value rather than up-front cost.
Having been in the Internet legal marketing business for over 20 years, I talk with numerous law firms and lawyers looking to switch website marketing providers, and have heard my share of horror stories. The decisions you make around Internet marketing can have a huge impact on your practice, so it’s important to choose a strong provider if you want to use the Internet to market your firm. Thus I wanted to share some common mistakes we hear about when law firms choose their website providers, and I’ll also offer suggestions on how to prevent the associated problems.
1. Failing to find out what happens when switching providers
Oftentimes law firms will be ready to switch website providers and then be surprised to learn they cannot take any of the previous work with them, or find out they have to pay additional fees in order to take any previous work or intellectual property. This basically puts the firm in a hostage situation where the firm must pay a large fee to leave the provider.
It can be expensive to have to start from scratch with all new content or a new domain. Sometimes you might want your new provider to host the old version of your site while the new site is being built. Without the ability to use a copy of your present site, or ownership of your current domain, you could be set back.
To prevent these types of issues, before you sign with a provider, find out what the policy is if you want to leave after your initial term. Website marketing is resource intensive and also requires time to see results, so a one-year commitment is reasonable. Inquire about the length of the term, and whether after your initial term with your provider you will be able to keep a copy of your site, and whether you can get your domain name. If a term longer than a year is required, there are significant fees associated with departure, or you are unable to keep a copy of the core site or domain, these are indications that the provider does not have confidence in clients staying on board.
2. Failing to investigate the provider’s track record
Unfortunately there are a lot of snake oil pitches going on via the Internet. I know I receive tons of emails each week promising me top placement on Google. Anyone can say anything, but actions speak far more loudly than words. So when you are considering providers ask to see examples of their work specifically with law firms. The provider should be able to show you a plethora of examples where they have helped law firms gain strong traction online. If the provider cannot show you examples, then realize you are a guinea pig and that your are taking the type of risks associated with experimentation.
On a related note be careful of providers that promise you results. Google specifically warns consumers to “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings.” Only Google is in charge of what shows up in their search results. They give guidelines and suggestions on what is important in determining the results, but they ultimately make the decisions about how each website performs in searches.
3. Delegating content development to unqualified writers
We encourage lawyers to write their own original, high-quality content for their sites and blogs. High-quality content is absolutely essential for search engine optimization, and it provides a strong first impression to visitors to the site, which translates to better conversion rates. Moreover, lawyers know their individual practices better than anyone else, so they are in the best position to write their own content.
That said, many lawyers are so busy that they need some help and thus delegate content drafting. In delegating content development, it’s critical that the writers draft original content that is of good quality. Therefore, before hiring a writer, learn about that individual’s qualifications, and ask for a writing sample. Review the writing sample to check for substance as well as typos, grammatical errors, etc. If you care about SEO and not just validation as a goal, then make sure the content is original and not sold to multiple firms or found elsewhere online. The search engines seek to reward original content and can tell if content is copied from another site online. So even if the content is beautifully written, if it is not original it will not be helpful from a search engine standpoint.
Finally, if you plan to delegate content development, review content that has been drafted for you and make any edits you’d like before pushing it live on the site. You would do the same if you had a member of your team draft a brief. It has your firm’s name on it and represents your firm, so make sure you are proud of the content you put online.
4. Focusing on cost rather than return on investment
Online marketing is an investment, and it takes time to see the fruits of the expenditures. If you invest your resources wisely, you can reap the benefits down the road. Understandably many lawyers are afraid to put resources into Internet marketing. It seems mysterious, and the information can be overwhelming. Because Internet marketing can be so effective, many businesses across all different industries are directing increasing resources toward it, creating much more competition. Choosing a provider based on the initial price tag alone rather than considering your overall return on investment can be a short-sighted approach that frequently turns firms off of Internet marketing all together. So do your research regarding Internet marketing providers, and invest wisely.